SAA: What might have been

An SAA Airbus A340 lands at OR Tambo International Airport. Pictue: Supplied/ Beeld Strategic interventions disrupted by political and policy prevarications resulted in strategic damage and significant lost opportunities

Ethiopian Airlines is reported to have posted R4.08 billion for its half-year results.

I cannot help but admire the vision and resilience of the government and the peoples of Ethiopia for, despite all odds, committing themselves to building a global company that has become the jewel of Africa.

It’s success is not due to a stroke of luck.

It is an outcome of an unequivocal vision from the shareholders, a transparent commitment to good governance and a professional discipline from the board and executive management to keep sticking to their defined mandates and roles.

This moment calls for a serious reflection on South Africa’s desired purpose for our own airline.

It is the introspection by the shareholders that I called for in 2017 and is yet to be done.

I was a special strategy adviser to former SAA CEO Vuyani Jarana for six months until September 2018.

From the outset, I engaged with Jarana on several occasions to map the way forward for SAA.

Subsequently, he travelled to Addis Ababa to meet his counterpart at Ethiopian Airways and exchange perspectives on the airline industry and their respective businesses.

Among other insights, Jarana discovered that Ethiopian Airlines had an enabling governance structure, a competent board that was fully empowered to govern the company and an adequate, yet unobtrusive, scope of political oversight by the office of the prime minister of Ethiopia.Ethiopian Airlines would meet the prime minister on a semi-annual basis for routine reporting, or more if otherwise was required.Although government policy still covers oversight of Ethiopian Airlines, such policy is not overreaching and takes into cognisance that the company neither exists nor functions as just another state department.There is a foundational understanding on the part of the Ethiopian government that Ethiopian Airlines competes directly with commercially agile and well-resourced companies in the global aviation markets.SAA, on the other hand, experiences heavy-handed oversight and reports to two government departments and ministers, four committees of Parliament – the standing committee on finance, the standing committee of appropriations, the standing committee on public accounts and the portfolio committee on public enterprises.The Public Finance Management Act supersedes all company policies and places some of the operational and investment decisions beyond the purview of the SAA board and vests on them a third government […]

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